CBS ‘Early Show’ Asks: ‘Is America Finally Color-Blind?’

At the top of Monday’s CBS "Early Show," newly appointed co-host, Maggie Rodriguez, teased an upcoming segment on race in politics in the aftermath of Barack Obama’s Iowa victory: "But besides the knock-down, drag-out political fighting in New Hampshire, we're asking the question this morning on everyone's mind, is America finally color-blind?" This just days after the "Early Show" declared that Obama’s success in Iowa meant that "history has been made."

Later in the 8am hour of the show, co-host Harry Smith led the segment with guests Joe Watson, a diversity expert, and Jon Meacham of "Newsweek." Smith began by asking a similar question as Rodriguez:

When Senator Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses, he became the first presidential candidate of color to achieve a significant victory in the race for the White House. Is America turning color-blind? Ready to elect its first African-American president?

Smith asked for Watson’s reaction to Obama’s success and Watson declared, "I think it's a magnificent moment for America." Smith then turned to Meacham and gave this thoughtful insight on race and politics:

Jon Meacham, I was on the bus with Barack Obama a week or two ago in Iowa. We're driving along in the bus and the snow outside is as white as that state is, as white as New Hampshire is, what is -- what is going on here? Are people seeing past color? Is that possible?

Smith's December 18 Iowa interview with Obama was a particularly glowing one. Meacham then responded to Smith:

This is about Barack Obama, and I think we shouldn't take anything away from his achievement. This is a very young man, 46 years old, who has, in a way, slain the goliath of the Clinton machine in Iowa. What -- if, in fact, we make a lot more history this year, this week, this year with Senator Obama, it's going to be a tribute to him and to his ability to convince Americans that he is the man for the job and the fact that he is a candidate of color will have an enormous historical impact.

Smith and Meacham continued to praise Obama, while examining America’s racial guilt:

SMITH: We still live in an America where Don Imus is, you know, racially-charged comments cause a furor, and he ends up losing his job. We still live in an America of the Jena 6.

MEACHAM: Absolutely. No, it's been called the 'American Dilemma.' I mean remember race is -- race is our original sin -- slavery's our original sin, the Constitution, Civil War, Jim Crow, the slurs and slights of our own time that sometimes we don't even notice. The symbolism and the reality of having Senator Obama doing so well in the presidential race is something that may, indeed, represent a landmark in a new chapter in that story. And I think that we definitely need a new chapter. And the fact that he's doing it is -- again, young man, he's doing it in a way that is -- he's running as a candidate for president. He's not of the civil rights generation.

Of course this was not the first time Smith examined the rascism epidemic in America, as he did following the Jena 6 controversy back in October.

The segment concluded by Smith getting this final reaction from Watson: "I think we're at a transformational moment...this is about a singular figure who has appealed to folks at their most broadest level, and that's magnificent. And we cannot lose sight of that, the uniqueness."

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

7:01AM TEASER:

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: But besides the knock-down, drag-out political fighting in New Hampshire, we're asking the question this morning on everyone's mind, is America finally color-blind?

8:16AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: When Senator Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses, he became the first presidential candidate of color to achieve a significant victory in the race for the White House. Is America turning color-blind? Ready to elect its first African-American president? Jon Meacham is the Editor of Newsweek magazine who's written extensively about politics and race. Joe Watson is an author and diversity expert. Good morning to you both.

JOE WATSON: Morning.

JON MEACHAM: Morning.

SMITH: Joe, let me start with you. Your own personal reaction to this. Because in the world that I live in, this is the only thing anybody's talking about.

JOE WATSON: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

SMITH: Yeah. What are you thinking?

WATSON: Well, I think it's a magnificent moment for America. I think it's a moment where it's not so much about color-blindness and moving past that because we always see color. What it's about is that people recognizing that we can trust one another. That's even more impactful and more powerful. And that's what you see when folks stand up in the caucuses and put their hands up and they say 'I'm for Barack Obama,' they're saying, 'I trust him with my life and with my children's life.' That's powerful.

SMITH: Jon Meacham, I was on the bus with Barack Obama a week or two in Iowa. We're driving along in the bus and the snow outside is as white as that state is, as white as New Hampshire is, what is -- what is going on here? Are people seeing past color? Is that possible?

JON MEACHAM: Well, it is possible. I think this is a case where the particular is proving the universal. This is about Barack Obama, and I think we shouldn't take anything away from his achievement. This is a very young man, 46 years old, who has, in a way, slain the goliath of the Clinton machine in Iowa. What -- if, in fact, we make a lot more history this year, this week, this year with Senator Obama, it's going to be a tribute to him and to his ability to convince Americans that he is the man for the job and the fact that he is a candidate of color will have an enormous historical impact.

SMITH: Right.

MEACHAM: But it's -- he's not running, and I think it's to his credit, he's not running as an African-American for president. He's running as an American for president, and that in and of itself is progress.

SMITH: Right. But Jon, this is so interesting from the standpoint that just a couple months ago there were people saying 'well, he's not black enough.'

MEACHAM: Right.

SMITH: We still live in an America where Don Imus is, you know, racially-charged comments cause a furor, and he ends up losing his job. We still live in an America of the Jena 6.

MEACHAM: Absolutely. No, it's been called the 'American Dilemma.' I mean remember race is -- race is our original sin -- slavery's our original sin, the Constitution, Civil War, Jim Crow, the slurs and slights of our own time that sometimes we don't even notice. The symbolism and the reality of having Senator Obama doing so well in the presidential race is something that may, indeed, represent a landmark in a new chapter in that story. And I think that we definitely need a new chapter. And the fact that he's doing it is -- again, young man, he's doing it in a way that is -- he's running as a candidate for president. He's not of the civil rights generation.

SMITH: Right.

MEACHAM: And I think that what we're seeing is something that no matter what happens in the same way, even if Senator Kennedy had not become President Kennedy in 1960, Catholicism --

SMITH: Right. The game is changing, the game is definitely changing. Very quickly your thoughts.

WATSON: I think we're at a transformational moment with a new generation of post-civil rights leaders. And I think just like Oprah transcended in media, Michael Jordan in sports, that's what we're seeing. Jon is right, that this is about a singular figure who has appealed to folks at their most broadest level, and that's magnificent. And we cannot lose sight of that, the uniqueness.

SMITH: Alright, Joe thank you so much. Jon thank you very much.

MEACHAM: Thanks Harry.

SMITH: Do appreciate it.

WATSON: Thank you, Harry.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC